Saturday, January 23, 2016

It's Where My Story Begins: short pieces on a theme

I asked a few friends I know from the haiku world to share short prose pieces with me, so I could share them with others. Here they are — on the theme "Childhood Homes"

The House at 2141 Eunice Street
former northern border of Berkeley, California
by Alan Bern

2141 Eunice was the second of three family houses in which we lived in Berkeley, all three within one square block. It is the house I remember best as a young child, with the scary basement where the beer my father was making blew up.

Decades after leaving the third house and living away from Berkeley, I returned and moved with my family next door to the third house, where my parents still lived. I have lived in that house for over 30 years.

The man who bought my parents’ second house had let it run down, to the point that the front steps were so worn and splintered they had to be roped off. When the man died, his family began to restore it — this process went on for years, and eventually the construction company gave up. Then the family tore it down and built a new house.

Passing by on my neighborhood walk, I noticed that it looked like the former second house. When this house went on the market, I went to an open house; very spiffy, yet it was as if I were back in my second childhood house, almost a replica. I told the realtor, and all the prospective buyers who would listen, of the similarities. No one cared. The realtor became antsy, fearing that I was taking energy away from her selling the house.

I told them it was a ghost house. In a good way, of course.


Second Block, Third House Down
Akron, Ohio

by Barbara Tate

An older replica of my younger self, I lock myself away filling the hours, rewinding memories of Flint Avenue, second block, third house down. The pungent smell of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, where Grandpa worked, hung heavy in the air if the breeze was right.

Through an archway from the living room was the large dining room where Grandpa's desk had its place and I was assigned the bottom drawer for my treasures. I remember Grandpa's pens, ink bottles, and the desk pad with a blotter where, once in a while, he would allow me to fill a pen. It was at this desk where I was encouraged to fill page after page of scribbles no one but me could read, and where I later practiced my letters when I began school.

There was a window seat where Grandma's canaries sang, and lace curtains hung on the windows. It was where Grandma kept her easel, oil paints, and canvasses, where I helped her make a braided rug, and where we put together a puzzle on the table. It was a room where Grandpa read me stories and Grandma recited poetry and read me the complete text of "The Song of Hiawatha."  It was a sunshine room.

Now I need a pause to take a breath, and return my heartbeat to normal as I recall Flint Ave., second block, third house down, and remember I was happy then.


Nowhere Zen New Jersey*
North Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

by Carole Herzog-Johnston

In the 1950s, Cleremont Avenue was white concrete with a line of tar running down the middle, tar that melted hot in summers. Our street was so safe; we could squat down in the middle, pull that tar like taffy and sculpt tiny animals from it. Maple trees and sycamores lined up like dancers along the avenue, swirling green, swaying rain, inviting us to climb.

Backyards, divided by yew hedges and rows of roses, were imaginary worlds inhabited by dragons and Davy Crocket. We chattered and bellowed from house to house, calling each other out into the day on chalk-covered sidewalks where we hopscotched, sailed paper boats in puddles, made mud pies. Kids skipped, skated, and cartwheeled on green lawns, shrieking like banshees, pilfering marigolds from gardens, catching fireflies in glass jars.

Names were like a ship’s manifest from Ellis Island: Herzog, Paladino, Szabadick, Busby. My father told me we were all equal and no one was better than anyone else. We mixed it up with innocent, joyful abandon.

* A line from Allen Ginsberg


Growing Up
Duluth, Minnesota

by Jo Balistreri

Growing up on the second floor of Grandma and Grandpa’s house at 1027 Lake Avenue South provided a childhood of wonder. Not only did I have the love of an extended family, but also a life of adventure.

Surrounded on three sides by Lake Superior, the only way to the mainland was to walk or drive over the famous Aerial Lift Bridge. The iron ore ships that required passage under the bridge signaled their approach with three guttural horn blasts. The bridge answered with a wailing siren. A slow process, this dialog permeated the air and gave us kids ample time to run to the harbor, climb up on the cement piers, and watch the steel girders rise into space, allowing the enormous ships to pass through. Because the harbor sat in a bowl of hills, thick fog often descended. The fog horn was another voice of our childhood, mysterious and lonely as it helped lost ships and visited our dreams.

Music also played a major role in my life. My grandma was a concert pianist and Grandpa played violin with the symphony. At night we’d gather in the living room to hear them practice. My sister and I would color, and mother knit. Dad read the paper. When it was time for bed, Grandpa would play Träumerei, or a Brahms lullaby. Childhood, a medley of sound, is the golden thread that still runs through my life.


The Rosary, Lucerne Street
Kent, United Kingdom

by Joanna M. Weston

Set among the hop fields of Kent was a small village with a post office/general store, and a pub. From the single street, I would open the green painted wooden gate, go past pink rambler roses tangled with goldenrod, and walk up a path of worn red bricks to the black front door. It was an old house, built in Kentish style with a two-storey uncompromising front, and a roof that sloped down almost to the ground at the back. Red brick and red tiled, all faded.

The rooms were small, with a front parlor and a kitchen complete with a deep "copper" for washing sheets, an uneven brick floor, and scrubbed wooden table. Here Mother piled washing, did the ironing with old flat-irons, made meringues or bread. The shallow stone sink sat below the window, which gave a view through crowding winter jasmine of hop fields, pasture with sheep, and orchards.


Childhood Memories
Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil

by Rosa Clement

My story begins in an old wooden house that had three bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen where most of the action happened. It was located in a small dead end street near downtown, where everybody was a friend of everybody. It was natural to borrow a cup of sugar from our neighbor and pay it back sometime later.

My mom raised chickens and ducks in our backyard, and we kids often pampered one of them in our lap. In those days we walked to go everywhere — to the supermarket, to the church, to school — because they were all close to home.

My sister and I spent long hours gardening and playing with the neighborhood boys and girls after returning from school. There were no cars in this small street and we had lots of space to play. It was a sweet time.


A Nest
Chillum, Maryland

by Theresa A. Cancro

It looks so small now, but the boxy 1950s house seemed big to me, encircled by a neat, white picket fence. There was a playhouse out back that Daddy had built for us kids, complete with a pot-bellied stove. On snowy days, we'd gather inside with friends and roast marshmallows or sip steamy cups of hot cocoa.

One spring, I watched in fascination from our living room window as three blue eggs hatched in a tidy nest deep within the pyracantha bush. Over the next two weeks, I was glued to that window to catch glimpses of the baby robins and their mother in nonstop feedings. Then one afternoon when I came home from school, I found they had fledged.


Plants and Planets
Ithaca, New York

by Tom Clausen

My father worked at Cornell University, studying and teaching about plants. As a young child I thought plants must be quite important since that was how he got money to allow our family to live. In a sense I thought my existence was at least in part due to plants. But I began to recognize that people at Cornell were interested in all sorts of things. Our neighbor worked there too and he studied atoms, apparently. I was amazed at all that was going on over there.

My parents took me to the Fuertes Observatory one night to look in a huge telescope to see the surface of the moon. It was incredible to go up the spiral staircase and put my eye to the eyepiece and see that far away that close up. They had glass photo slides of planets and nebulae and I was now able to look into the night sky to see constellations and planets. I even heard that there was no known end to space. In one science unit at school they talked about the Big Bang when the universe began.

To this day I do not understand it any better than I did then, but apparently that was when it all began.


I Believe in Miracles
Moldavia, Romania

by Virginia Popescu

I have my first clear memories from a very young age — I was about three years old back then. I still see my mother, under the old walnut tree, carefully holding a soft boiled egg in her left hand, and in her right hand she held a wooden spoon.

Under the walnut, there was a long table with two benches on each side. On one of them, we used to sit down, the three of us kids, waiting for the Holy Communion, with our mouths wide open and staring at the wonderful egg.

In the middle of the table, on a wooden platter, a yellow maize porridge was shining in all majesty, sliced with a thread.

“Did you get porridge?” Mom was asking us, standing. “Yes,” we were all answering in one shout.

That’s when the ritual started. With the spoon handle, Mom was taking a bit of the white of the egg and a bit of the yolk, carefully feeding her starving children.

This was all happening after the Second World War, which had brought, together with all the other disasters, a terrible famine to Moldavia. My mother told us that the people who had a few sacks of corn in their barns were considered wealthy.

“You’ve had enough?" She was asking us, with a voice that wouldn’t have accepted any comments, and we were all answering as in the army: “Yes!”

Then, her face was glowing with happiness.

I see her clearly, a sacred image. Thin, pale, with big black eyes, with her dark hair swept back. I wonder now, after all these years, what my mother and father were eating. Maybe the rest of maize porridge left on the wooden platter.

Later on I read in the New Testament the episode of the five loaves of bread and of the five fish, without being too surprised by this miracle.

I always thought the egg that my mother was using to feed her three children was more amazing.

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